(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Turkel Committee on Wednesday that the IDF made a crucial mistake when it did not resort to accurate fire against those blocking entry to the Mavi Marmara Turkish aid ship as IDF Shayetet 13 commandos rappelled onto the ship from helicopters.
"The central mistake, including mine, was that we thought there were about 10-15 people on the ship, we will throw flash grenades, they will move away, and then we will be able to drop 15 soldiers in one minute," explained Ashkenazi. "Here was the real error. We should have managed conditions to accumulate power in the quickest way. There was need to fire with accurate weapons and neutralize those who prevented the rappelling down of soldiers, something that would have decreased the the risk of harm to them. That is the central lesson for the next operation."
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When asked whether the plan needed to be changed after the first soldier boarded the ship, Ashkenazi stressed that the moment the soldier rappelled down from the chopper, there was no doubt that the operation needed to be continued. And that was the decision of the Navy chief.
"When someone comes at a soldier with an axe, the soldier will shoot," said the IDF chief.
He also added that the IDF did not have sufficient evidence on the IHH organization. "The level of knowledge the IDF had on the organization was not like the level of information we have on Hamas," or the Islamic Jihad. "We did not investigate the organization. It was not on our list of our priorities because it was not listed as a terror organization and was located in Turkey which is not an enemy state."
In a clear break from the strategy of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ashkenazi took responsibility for the botched flotilla raid in late May during his testimony before then Turkel Committee.
Ashkenazi told the committee that he was responsible for all IDF operations and that as the representative of the entire military there was no reason to summon additional officers or soldiers to testify before the committee.
In contrast to Ashkenazi who took responsibility for the raid on the Marmara, which ended with nine dead Turkish nationals, Barak on Tuesday placed the blame on the IDF, which he said was responsible for warning the government if “the mission cannot be carried out.” In the case of the flotilla the IDF did not warn, Barak said.
Ashkenazi praised the commandos from the Navy’s Flotilla 13 who boarded
the ship and, according to the IDF, were lynched by a group of
mercenaries. He said that the second soldier who fast-roped onto the
boat from a helicopter was immediately shot.
“The soldiers legitimately opened fire and shot those who they needed to
shot and not those who they didn’t need to shoot,” he said.
“I am proud of the soldiers that we have,” Ashkenazi told the committee.
“The IDF is a transparent organization that learns from each operation
and knows how to investigate itself.”
Ashkenazi also stressed the importance in preventing ships from docking,
without inspection, in the Gaza Strip.
“The sea blockade is crucial in preventing terror groups from smuggling
large quantities of weaponry into Gaza by sea,” he said. “An open sea
will increase the threat against Israel.”